Ready responses

Print edition : August 29, 2008

ONE key area where the Defence Research and Development Organisation has achieved success is threat from nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons.

The stockpile of nuclear weapons/warheads in the world is around 3,150. There is the threat of NBC weapons falling into the hands of terrorists or accidents taking place in storage complexes or during the transportation of radioactive material. Given this scenario, the DRDO has given a thrust to developing technologies to defend the civilian population and the armed forces. The DRDO has developed about 40 systems and products to counter NBC threats and they relate to detection, protection, decontamination and medical management. The Directorate of Materials has been the nodal agency for the NBC defence programmes since 1986.

The Defence Laboratory (D.L.) has developed instruments to detect nuclear radiation. They include the radiac personal locket dosimeter for measuring gamma and neutron doses received by a soldier; the pocket dosimeter; the portable dose rate meter; and roentgenometer for measuring the radiation received by the crew of an armoured vehicle. The Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs) would carry sensors and a circular slide to help them decide how far they can go into an NBC-contaminated environment and how long they can stay there to rescue people.

W. Selvamurthy, Chief Controller, R&D (Life Sciences and Human Resources), said, We have developed a solid state anemometer, which will indicate whether the aerosol particles of nuclear radiation are spreading, the wind direction in which they are spreading and the winds velocity. D.L. has developed a sensor for detecting the flash of light by nuclear explosion.

A tracked reconnaissance vehicle with gamma sensors will travel inside the contaminated zone, demarcate it, and communicate with commanders 20 km away for decisions about troop deployment. A mobile nuclear field laboratory will detect radiation in food.

A portable gas chromotograph can detect 20 chemical warfare agents such as sarin, tabun, sonum, sulphur mustard and nitrogen mustard. A three-coloured detector paper stuck on ones dress, by change of colour, will indicate the presence of chemical warfare agents.

The DRDO has come up with vector control agents to combat biological agents transmitted through mosquitoes. A long-acting mosquito-repellent has been useful to soldiers in the North-East, where malaria is widespread. Two other products are a kit to detect water poisoning and a water purification system. Using reverse osmosis, but with a different filtering mechanism, the portable system can purify 5,000 litres of water in an hour.

The DMSRDE has developed NBC impermeable suits, over boots, face-let, haversacks, casualty bags and so on for QRTs and soldiers. The suits are under mass production at the Ordnance Factory, Kanpur. There are orders for 40,000 units, valued at Rs.40 crore.

The DRDO has devised collective shelters too. Thirty soldiers can go underground for four days in these integrated field shelters, which are self-contained. These have modules for living and servicing. The latter will have toilets, generators, air-handling units and so on. Also in the DRDO stable are unmanned ground and aerial vehicles to measure nuclear radiation.

T.S. Subramanian

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